Play Ball in Pulaski?

It’s a little premature to make plans for Opening Day in Pulaski, but at least there is talk of baseball for the Appalachian League affiliate after being left out last year when Toronto pulled its team too late for Pulaski to find a replacement.

It’s been a long, frustrating process for league president Lee Landers and team officials. Landers put a lot of energy into trying to get a team there for 2007 and he twice felt like he was on the verge of having deals completed for next year only to have both teams back out. Landers confirmed that he and team president Tom Compton have been talking with three teams about playing in Pulaski next season, with Seattle the furthest along in negotiations.

According to Landers, Mariners officials have had meetings with Pulaski representatives and have done studies on the feasibility of such a move. Seattle currently has six affiliates, including one in the Rookie-level Arizona League, and would easily be the Appalachian League’s most western club. The Mariners could conceivably pull out of the AZL before next season since teams do not sign player development contracts to participate.

Attempts to contact Seattle general manager Bill Bavasi were not immediately successful.

“There’s still a glimmer of hope,” said Landers, a refrain commonly uttered by the veteran baseball official last offseason as he pounded the pavement at the Winter Meetings outside Orlando in attempts to find a suitor for Pulaski.

The Blue Jays pulled out of the Appalachian League after four years in Pulaski at the end of the 2006 season, opting instead to join the Gulf Coast League, and left the club and league little time and few options to find a replacement. Landers left no stone unturned, approaching nearly every team without success before working with Major League Baseball officials on a series of creative proposals that included fielding a team of players from the Scouting Bureau and bringing in a team from the Mexican League.

But in the end, none of the options panned out and the Appalachian League was forced to deal with the scheduling nightmare and financial impact of a nine-team league. Teams generally played two-game series, which required more time on the road and an increased travel budget.

Meanwhile, Pulaski was left with an empty stadium that the city had recently paid to renovate.

That’s very important in a small community like Pulaski where economic development is major,” said Landers, adding that Pulaski’s situation impacts the league as a whole. “It doesn’t reflect on just Pulaski, but the spirit of the whole Appalachian League. Credibility wise, it affects getting things done in other markets. They’ve done things in Pulaski to improve their stadium, and we have to have upgrades in other markets to maintain facility standards. We don’t want operators saying they are afraid of being another Pulaski, spend the money and all of a sudden (they) don’t have a club.”